Book 5, Chapter 90 – At Last, We Meet

Cloudhawk felt something change the moment he stepped into the labyrinth.

The entire labyrinth was enveloped in strange spatial energies which caused it to shift, much like the Temple he’d infiltrated. The simplest explanation was that the density of space-energy in this area was higher. That was why the interior of a Temple was always larger than it appeared from the outside. It was as if the contents of a whole washbasin were contained in a small pitcher.

Spatial Compression. Otherwise known as dimensional technology! It was science that bordered on magical, far beyond the understanding of human kind.

The labyrinth’s expansive interior also meant it was very complex. Every challenger entered through a different door, into a different section of the maze. There was no way anyone would chance upon any others.

As Cloudhawk fully stepped into the labyrinth the entrance shut behind him. He found himself in a large chamber facing six hallways.

“I’m supposed to choose one, eh?”

Cloudhawk glanced over them. From the outside none of the hallways looked any different. They were all made from the same twisting roots with glowing vines interspersed that led the way. That was where light for the whole area came from.

So the whole thing was about luck. Wasn’t this supposed to be a test of someone’s skill?

Only one of these routes had to be the right one. The others were meant to lead him astray. It didn’t matter how strong you were in this sort of circumstance, after all, each hallway looked the same. Designed to confound one’s perception, even Cloudhawk couldn’t see the slightest difference.

“Which one am I supposed to pick?”

As he stood there in thought, suddenly a darkness invaded his mind. It reached for him from the depths of one of the hallways. It was a darkness he was familiar with – one he’d felt three times before. The first time was when he chanced upon the phase stone. Second, when he claimed the Demon King’s skull. The last was in the depths of Woodland Vale when he encountered the Demon King’s Cuirass.

Each time it had something to do with the Demon King. Maybe this time it was from his blood? He felt enthusiasm rouse within him.

From the beginning his biggest concern was not whether he could defeat the Silverwing Monarch, but whether he’d been fed lies from Judas and the Khan of Evernight. This was an important, life-threatening circumstance! What if this so-called blood crystal of the Demon King was all bullshit? Had they played him for a fool?

But the sense he gathered now at least confirmed that whatever was nearby had something to do with the Demon King. It would empower Cloudhawk more than anything else, allowing him to join with the inheritance he’d been carrying for years. Between that and the demon blood he would be back to full health in under a year.

Demon blood wasn’t as simple as it sounded. In essence, it was an energy crystal.

At the time of the Demon King’s demise, either himself or someone close to him extracted his life energy using some unknown method. They gathered that energy into the Demon King’s blood and sealed it there in crystalline form. That was what he felt at the mouth of that hallway, a burgeoning sense of dark vitality that drew him forward.

The call wasn’t just logical, he felt it reaching in to every cell of his body. Every piece of him, every organ hungered for it. He felt the struggle and the fear propelling him forward, for he could not remain still. It was so deep and primal that he started to walk forward before he even knew what he was doing.

He stepped into the hallway and it closed shut behind him. He’d made his decision, and once the choice was made there was no changing it.

Cloudhawk felt something tugging him forward. This tempting energy was sudden – too sudden that he was suspicious. What if this was some sort of trap? But if it was, he was already caught. Going back wasn’t an option, only forward. He had to hope luck was with him.

As he walked forward the dark energy felt more intense. His feet carried him forward of their own accord. Yet as he strode on another thought crept into his mind.

It was a small, nagging voice at first that quickly grew louder. Soon it was a raging inferno he couldn’t ignore. It screamed over and over again in his mind.

Wolfblade!

Cloudhawk already knew that Wolfblade had to be a survivor of the Great War, and an important one. Most of his life he’d lived under the careful machinations of… whatever he was. It was ‘Wolfblade’ that looked after him when he was just a scav. Later, when he was snapped up by the Tartarus Mercenaries, he was there too known as Mantis. Finally, as the Wolfblade he knew today. He kept showing up at crucial points in his life under different identities.

Everything that had seemed so coincidental was actually planned by that mysterious figure.

The phase stone, the Demon King’s skull, the cuirass… Wolfblade’s hand was always guiding him behind the scenes. Was he doing it again now? Cloudhawk couldn’t tell. He didn’t even know what Wolfblade’s ultimate goal was. There was some kind of connection between him and Arcturus, some sort of understanding that made them less than enemies and more… respected peers?

Fuck it, and fuck him! This is all about survival!

Cloudhawk quickened his step and behind him the hall collapsed into a mass of writhing vines. Soon he stepped out into a relatively spacious room and turned around to see the way he’d come in had vanished. It had been replaced with a seamless wall.

“What now?”

He turned back around to see three more openings. They were different from the six prior, as their entrances were crisscrossed with poisonous brambles. Obviously it was meant as a deterrent. With his phase abilities Cloudhawk could waltz right through if he so pleased, though he didn’t know if he was being watched. He figured relying on such a unique skill was not a smart play right now.

There had to be another way.

Cloudhawk walked into the center of the chamber then stopped when he heard a suspicious noise. His head shot up.

At some point, unnoticed, the ceiling had became laden with a crop of juicy looking fruit. They were all at least two meters long and quite plump. Most incredible of all was they continued to grow as he watched them.

Pop! Po-poppop-pop--pop!

The weird sound filled the room as these fruit dropped, hit the floor and split open like blooming flowers. From within each one appeared a strange, cyan-hued humanoid figure.

Not a hair could be seen on their bodies and their faces were completely absent of any defining features – just empty holes where eyes and a mouth might be. They were terrifying and savage looking, and in an instant there were a hundred moving in Cloudhawk’s direction. With impressive speed and agility they closed in, hardly more than a shadow. Half a breath later they were in his face and attacking.

But Cloudhawk was not easily overcome, nor was his tiny guardian. Oddball belched half a dozen golden bolts of lightning at the creatures. Any that tried to draw near were blasted to pieces.

Yet much to his surprise upon blowing apart, the monsters dissolved into pools of green liquid. The fluid split apart and from the disparate fools rose more of these creatures. From one corpse arose ten, twenty, even thirty more!

They split! Multiplied! They were unkillable. Oddball continued to try anyway but only succeeded in creating more.

Cloudhawk saw that fighting was pointless; they couldn’t be destroyed. Worse, fighting only added to the problem. If he kept this up soon he’d been washed away in a tide of angry cyan monsters. By that point strength wouldn’t matter, he’d be overwhelmed. 

Oddball’s attacks eventually tapered off, but not before the monsters had increased in number by at least half.

Stopping his companion’s efforts, Cloudhawk dodged the creatures’ attacks and started to fight back. He was careful not to destroy them while he looked for a way through. His foes were both strong and fast, and reproduced endlessly. With no way to destroy them it was tricky, but that didn’t mean there was no way out.

There! Cloudhawk sensed that one among the hundred or so monsters was different from the others. Outwardly there was no differentiating it from the others, however Cloudhawk could hear the hum of a relic coming from it. If it was different, it must be special.

Basilisk appeared in his hand. With all his strength he fired an arrow at the creature.

It was too slow and couldn’t dodge. A shrill cry marked Cloudhawk’s successful shot, followed by the sound of stone hitting the ground as it petrified and broke apart. All at once the other monsters froze in place and melted away like ice sculptures. In a handful of minutes he was alone again in the chamber.

One of the three hallways was now open – exactly as Cloudhawk expected.

Only one of the monsters was the real one. Killing it stopped all the others, and one batch opened up one path. The other pathways would open when he fought his way through the next two waves.

Before long those second and third groups manifested.

Although each group was stronger than the last, the method for dealing with them was the same. All he had to do was find the progenitor and destroy it, then the rest would melt away. For ordinary Chosen this would be a dangerous trap, To Cloudhawk it was hardly a challenge.

At last the third hall was opened.

When all the ways were clear Cloudhawk again let the dark energy guide him. He wandered toward the opening where he felt it the strongest and followed it for roughly half an hour. A bright light appeared ahead, and when he stepped into the chamber it radiated from he stared in wonder.

Before him was a single figure, and a solitary tree.

Cloudhawk’s eyes went first to the figure. He heard his heart beating violently in his chest as a suffocating sense of foreboding came over him. This figure looked like Desmond after his transformation, but the massive wings spreading from his back were a dazzling metallic hue as though they’d been forged from pure silver.

Was… was this the Silverwing Monarch?

Were the paltry checkpoints his way of testing Cloudhawk?

“You left without saying goodbye when you visited a few days ago. You never gave us an opportunity to chat.” His face was calm and his affect unperturbed. “But it’s alright, I don’t mind. I knew you would present yourself to me eventually. And this time, you won’t be leaving so easily.” 

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